A week ago, I missed the deadline for writing my column because I was in the hospital. Unlike other weeks, I'd planned ahead and was ready to write a story about growing and using micro greens in salads.

My farmer son had sown a fresh tray of sunflower seeds that had germinated and were just waiting for me to harvest. He had other lettuce greens growing under lights I'd been harvesting since our holiday meals.

After a weekend at the lake and coming back home I thought I had the flu. But oddly, I hurt just below my ribs and not in my belly. I got really lazy and laid around reading books — finishing a Gloria Steinem book I'd borrowed from daughter-in-law Molly. It inspired me; I'm a converted feminist.

The next weekend went by, we enjoyed a night out and I sat after church enjoying conversations with several women at the fellowship dinner table. It had been a long time since having time to chat with any of them.

After our church's annual meeting, I went home and took another long nap and started reading a novel. It was depressing. A 73-year-old retired cardiologist was dying from colon cancer and had decided to go on a hunting trip and fake an accidental death.

The setting was in Washington apple country — the details of the landscapes were graphic, as were the livid details of the doctor's thought process. He'd packed up and headed out, but had a freak accident with his old four-wheel drive vehicle on an interstate. Although he was cut and bruised, and traveling with two dogs, a couple in a VW wagon picked them up.

His saga was hard to set down because I was living the story with him and thinking don't be stupid and kill yourself. Tell your daughter, go back home, you idiot.

He kept on going, meeting new people, and pretending he was just out hunting. He got involved in people's lives and helped them out, just because that was who he was. Awful things kept happening to him. One dog got killed by a pack of wolf dogs out in a desert, then the owner of the dogs stole his gun.

He kept trudging onward, looking for a rental car and a vet to help his other dog, whom he had sutured himself after his wolf dog injuries. Then he dragged the dog on a makeshift traverse for miles.

Tuesday night I finished the book and felt I could breath easier. When I got up the next morning, I had to be honest with myself. I was not feeling well and hadn't felt well for days. It was not the flu, but I wondered if I had a collapsed lung as I kept feeling short of breath if I walked up the stairs after taking a box of Christmas decorations downstairs.

I called to make an appointment with my doctor — she could fit me in an hour and a half. She listened to my lungs, no not a collapsed lung, she said, but ordered x-rays and blood tests.

Afterward, I drove home.

Then there was the call from the doctor, “I'm so sorry, you do have a collapsed lung, you need to get to Saint Marys. I will call them.”

How did I know what was wrong with me? Well, I have a genetic condition that has affected two of my siblings, along with myself. I check in annually with a genetics doctor at Mayo to update the family history. My mother's cousin once had kidney cancer and an aunt accidentally collapsed a lung by dumpster diving. (She grew cacti plants to sell and wanted to get some pots that had been thrown away.)

My siblings and I have spots on our lungs called blebs. The tissue is thinner, making them look like holes on an MRI. Over 20 years ago, my brother hadn't been feeling well for two weeks. Both of his lungs were partially collapsed. He had surgery to fuse his lungs to his ribcage, which effectively blocked the blebs so his lungs would not collapse again after they were re-inflated.

My sister was training for RAGBRAI when a jerking motion (she didn't fall) resulted in a pain that a doctor could not diagnose at first. Eventually, they found the problem — a collapsed lung. Her lung was re-inflated and she rode RAGBRAI, but during the race, her lung collapsed a second time.

She had a fusing surgery similar to my brother's. At a later x-ray check-up of her lungs, they found she had kidney cancer.

After consulting with our oldest brother, Beth had a genetic test to see if she had the same genetic condition doctors in California found he had. She sent family members letters of what she had discovered and encouraged us to be tested. My doctor referred me to Mayo telling me, “They like that kind of stuff there.”

Even before the test results came back, the genetics doctor said, I know you have it. He looked closely at my face, where I have a collection of odd benign bumps that also are indicators of the condition. As he looked at my chest MRI he worried about the number of blebs on my lungs.

At one annual check-up he'd told me, if you think you're having a heart attack, get to the emergency room and tell them your lung has collapsed. I have an ultrasound each year to check for kidney cancer.

As this genetic condition is being studied, more reported diseases are added to the list, although none particularly signal it.

While I lounged around the house, one day I checked the website set up just for this condition, which is named for three doctors who discovered it. I asked the computer, do I have the flu or a collapsed lung? The later seemed to be more likely. 

But my husband was in Wisconsin working on the cabin addition.

After I got the call back from the doc, I called my husband and sent a text to my son Tyrel. “Working from home?”

“No,” came the reply. “Why?”

I responded, “I have a collapsed lung and need to go to Saint Marys. Can drive myself.”

He called me, “Mom, when you have a collapsed lung, you don't send a text.”

While he came for me I had packed as if I was going on a work trip. Laptop, books to read, clothes and toothbrush.

As I was examined and new x-rays were taken, I remembered details my brother and Beth had told me — how their blebs were in the lower part of their lungs, but for most lung collapses, there's a hole in the top.

That was it, my right lung was still inflated in the top, but flat on the bottom part.

The initial plan was to just re-inflate it (imagine boring a hole through your ribcage). But afterward, a thoracic surgeon, considering the family history, decided surgery fusing the lung to the ribcage should also be done.

After surgery, I moved to a different hospital room for my recovery. For days I carried around a box that suctioned out excess fluid and kept the lung re-inflated. When my lungs were checked and rechecked with x-rays, they finally pulled the tube out and sent me home with my husband.

Before this health episode, I'd seen a recipe on Facebook that caught my attention. It fit in with a wild idea I had to cook community meals using only ingredients available from the farmers market or at Eyota stores. I'd get an army of volunteers and be a maestro of sorts to organize and teach easy, healthy, home-cooked meals. Recipes would be available.

Eating them would be another adventure for any interested community member. Cooks would eat free, others could donate or be given free tickets at the farmers market.

One of our health issues today is people who do not know how to cook eat too much fast or processed food. For those without enough money for food, basics obtained from a food shelf may not get used for lack of skill to combine them.

Yes, I've gotten some real crazy looks and comments from people listening to my idea. My sister said, well Iris, maybe not weekly, how about once a month, if you do it.

The Facebook recipe showed using eight cans of ingredients and a packet of taco seasoning. One could also add a few additional spices, if available.

Back home from the hospital, I was not feeling like cooking. Rather, I wondered if my husband might be coached into creating taco soup. I lined up the ingredients, with a can opener, and a half teaspoon measure. With a pot on the stove and a colander in the sink, we were ready.

I cautioned him to be sure and rinse off the top of each can before opening it. So he started — opening beans and draining them. Instead of canned corn, we used a bag of sweet corn frozen last summer.

When he needed a spoon for stirring, I pointed to where they are handy, right next to the stove. As he added ingredients, I told him to turn on the heat under the pan.

He worked while I opened a week's worth of mail.

It didn't take long until supper was ready. Dale enjoyed tasting and deciding if more salt was needed. I set out some taco chips, sour cream and shredded cheddar as soup toppers.

After eating, there were leftovers for another day. I found different versions of this soup on the internet. I would caution against using cream of chicken soup. My inspiration was from “12 Tomatoes.”

Eight-can Taco Soup

Cans are sized approximately 14 to 16 ounces each, unless another size is noted

1 can pinto beans, drained

1 can black beans, drained

1 can corn, drained (can substitute 1 1/2 cups frozen)

1 4-ounce can diced green chiles

1 can diced tomatoes

1 10-ounce can chicken breast

1 10-ounce can green (or red) enchilada sauce

1 can low sodium chicken broth

1 packet taco seasoning

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

Salt and pepper


Crumbled tortilla chips

Sour cream

Shredded cheddar cheese

Pour drained pinto beans, black beans, and corn into soup pot. Add green chiles, diced tomatoes, chicken breast (with its broth), enchilada sauce and chicken broth. Stir together and heat under medium heat until it starts bubbling. Add additional seasonings, salt and pepper. Stir occasionally until heated through. Taste check to see if more salt is needed.

Spoon into bowls. Sprinkle with crumbled tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.